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Focus turns to West Cork for stress-free sailfest

WE'RE told that Sanya is 'The Hawaii of China'. So vast is the land area of The People's Republic that all comparisons are possible.

However, this claim regarding the most southerly city of Sanya is of special interest, as it's spearheading the last-minute Volvo challenge in which Ireland is included in a supporting role through Galway.

Whatever about Hawaii, this morning it would be useful to know if China has anywhere like West Cork -- they'd find it very helpful for their developing national sailing programme.

With August almost upon us, Irish sailing focus turns to West Cork with its incomparable week of regattas in Calves Week, culminating in the Schull Regatta -- 127-years-old and better than ever -- on Sunday week. And West Cork sailing is a balm for those stressed by big events in the outside world.

We can't precisely tell you who are the main contenders in this unfolding sailfest, as the relaxed organisers don't close the entry list until lunchtime today.

But the main feeder event got under way last night from Crosshaven with the time-honoured annual race to Schull round the Fastnet, and we do know that six plucky Dublin boats have headed south to take on the boats from the 'real capital,' not to mention a flotilla from Galway.

But for those only interested in the events in West Cork itself at Schull, Baltimore and Crookhaven, it starts tomorrow with the Schull-Baltimore race.

Once you're in, there's the prospect of five racing days among Carbury's Hundred Isles, and a lay day on Wednesday, when boats able to extract themselves from the mainland gluepots head out to Cape Clear.

There's an extra edge to it all this year as, for once, Calves Week doesn't clash with Cowes Week, which is a week later than usual. The hyper-keen can do both. The lateness of Cowes Week is something to do with the tides of the Solent, which are a law unto themselves.

This means that the Fastnet Race -- the big one -- doesn't start until Sunday August 14, with an entry of 350 boats, including the Mike Sanderson-skippered Sanya Volvo 70, the up-graded Telefonica.

On her first serious outing, the crew media member will be Frankie Leonard (of Portumna via Galway).

Under the Volvo race's new frugality rules, no team is allowed two-boat training, so the Fastnet offers the first serious encounter. Franck Cammas' Groupama (with Damian Foxall as senior crewman) will be in it, as will the Abu Dhabi boat skippered by Ian Walker, with its crew including Justin Slattery. They can provide tantalising pointers towards the first race of the Volvo series, an inshore event at Alicante on October 29.

But the first Volvo 2011-2012 rumblings are only part of the record fleet in the Fastnet, which will see the successful Mark Mills-designed 68-footer Alegre making her first foray beyond the Mediterranean.

The fleet will have a large two-handed division, including Ireland's Barry Hurley and Andy Boyle with the 35ft Dinah, with which Hurley has just had a class win and third overall in the Solo Ocean Racing Club's Channel Week between England and France.

Irish Independent